We save money for numerous reasons, like retirement, our kids, or to mitigate risk. But some of us save money specifically for self-fulfillment, like investing in a business, donating to charity, or to have more resources for enjoying life. These people, while few in number, are surprisingly likely to be savers -- much more so than people with most other goals.
This weird little data point points to the question: Could focusing on your personal growth and fulfillment be the path to a healthier savings account?
The sources of savings goals
The finding comes from an Ohio State University working paper, which examined reams of government survey data to see if there were any links between Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and people's individual savings goals and behavior.
What is Maslow's Hierarchy? In a nutshell, it's a psychology department standby that defines several basic human requirements, ranking them from the absolutely critical (like food and shelter) to the lofty and wonderful (like fulfilling our potential). The idea is that we have to cover the basics before we can move onto our higher-level, and more abstract, requirements for a happy life.
People's savings goals correlate quite well with Maslow's Hierarchy. The researchers found that the top three goals involved retirement/security, emergencies/safety, and love/family. The least common savings goal was for self-growth. In other words, most people are more focused on meeting their basic needs, while few people get to the "top" of addressing more lofty goals.
Goals and savings decisions
People who have a goal of saving for retirement are the most likely to actually save, implying that this goal's importance is matched, to some degree, by steps taken to actually fulfill it. But what's interesting is that, when looking at the different reasons people give for saving, people who save for self-growth are just as likely to save as their retirement-focused peers.
In fact, the authors describe self-growth as the "most influential goal encouraging households to save." They say, "Although it was the least commonly possessed goal among households, it has the strongest impact on the savings decision."
In other words, self-fulfillment, while rare, is an incredibly powerful motivator for actual savings behavior.
What does that mean? Maybe you should try to think about your own self-growth when it comes to saving money -- it might just help you become a better saver.
How to do build self-growth into your goals
The trouble with focusing on your security and family needs is that these goals are built, in many respects, around obligations. They're very important ones, and they can be deeply fulfilling in their own right. But as the Maslow Hierarchy points out, our human needs are more numerous than that.
One way to start working toward those needs is to think about what it is that you actually want in life. What are your dreams? Would you like to become an entrepreneur? Take a few classes in a favorite subject? Travel to Italy? Learn how to paint? Donate a large sum to a charity near and dear to your heart?
What would really fulfill you?
Let your imagination run wild, here. After you get the words down on paper, you can distinguish the truly fulfilling goals from the ones you'd like to find fulfilling but don't. For example, in my case I would like to think that I would be deeply fulfilled learning how to paint, but the reality is, I'd much rather eat my way through Italy instead.
From there, open a little special fund for your goal. The point isn't the size of the savings or the fanciness of the system, it's the habit. Whether you set your spare change aside into a designated jar or open up a high-interest savings account and auto-debit $50 (or $500, or however much) a month, the amount doesn't matter. Just do something.
It's a little treat for your self-fulfillment, an account for you and only you. And with that, you have suddenly become a saver, and the best part is that it feels completely indulgent on some level.
You might think it's a small first step, and perhaps it is. But it could also be your first step on a road toward bigger and better things -- and it might even make you more excited about saving for those other goals that are also so important, like a new car, a comfortable retirement, or holiday gifts for the kids.
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